The Mentorist

“So, Tell Me About Yourself”: Interviewing with Finesse


Many years ago, I got a call from a “big deal” recruiter in charge of filling a Fortune 1000 company ‘C’-level position.  After introducing herself, the recruiter’s first words were, “So, tell me something about yourself.”

My response?  “Well, what do you want to know?”  (She had my resume right there in front of her, after all….)  So wrong!

Not surprisingly, I didn’t hear from that recruiter a second time.

Since then, I’ve learned to handle the “tell me…” question with a fair amount of finesse.  You can do the same, by following these guidelines:

  1. Don’t tell your life’s story

    Keep your answer short:  two minutes, max.  And, unless your background involves something wildly exotic (on the positive side, of course) – such as having been born in Shanghai – stay away from personal details.

  2. Start your answer with a pithy lead-in

    Great news stories start off with a gripping lead sentence.  Your “tale of yourself” should too.  Consider starting with a statement that sums up your leadership style.  Or what motivates you.  Or how you got to this point in your career.  Just keep your first sentence short.  You can spend the rest of your answer elaborating.

  3. Relate your answer to the job spec

    If the position has a job spec, read it carefully.  It tells you what personal traits and achievements the company wants its ideal job candidate to have.  Tailor your “tell me…” answer so that it demonstrates you have those sought-after qualities.

  4. Style matters as much as substance

    Your interviewer will be judging the way you deliver your response at least as much as its contents.   Don’t hesitate or bumble when launching into your answer.  Speak with confidence and energy.   Sound genuine.

  5. Be memorable

    Your interviewer has probably asked this question hundreds of times — and has heard almost as many bland answers.  Make your answer stand out by including a colorful detail or striking example that serves to make your point.

  6. Practice — then practice some more

    Your “tell me…” answer needs to be well organized, well paced and delivered with passion.  Above all, it needs to sound natural, rather than “canned.”  Practice out loud in front of a friend (or a smartphone video camera) until you get it right.


Author: Jane E. Owens

Jane E. Owens, The Mentorist’s chief blogger, has spent her career immersed in the business and culture of corporations and law firms. A former general counsel and corporate lawyer, Jane is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the professional world – and, through her mentoring practice, hopes to increase the ranks of the former. To learn more about Jane or suggest topics you'd like The Mentorist to discuss, go to:

2 thoughts on ““So, Tell Me About Yourself”: Interviewing with Finesse

  1. How true! Great advice! The “Tell me about yourself” question is that one that brings dead silence if you don’t handle it correctly! And, if it the lead question in the interview, oops, if you don’t get it right!

  2. Great to hear from you, Terry! It’s surprising to me how widely the “so, tell me…” question has caught on. Perhaps every U.S. recruiter went to the same seminar…?

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